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With Santa Maria expected to add over 35,000 people to its population in the next three decades, city officials are set to begin the next stage of the comprehensive general plan update to prepare for the growth.

General plans, which cities and counties are required by state law to maintain and update regularly, provide a vision for a municipality's growth and development.

The update aims to set the course for how Santa Maria will grow through 2040.

Various topics are required to be covered in the general plan, but the most consequential will likely be land use, which will outline what can be built, where it can be built and how the city will use either annexation of nearby land or infill to accommodate future population growth.

Other topics that must be covered include housing, open space, conservation and circulation, which covers the city’s transportation network and how residents travel around the city.

While Santa Maria has updated elements of its general plan in the past decade, many of its components are outdated and overdue for an update.

On Nov. 5, more than a year after the city first began community outreach on the multi-year process, the City Council unanimously signed off on a contract with Berkeley-based planning consultant Raimi+Associates to complete its comprehensive update.

The project will begin in 2020 and is expected to take three years to complete. It will cost around $1.7 million from the city’s general fund.

Community Development Manager Chuen Ng said the update will include workshops with community members and other outreach; an analysis of the city’s housing needs; an annexation study; and an environmental impact report.

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“We can expect to spend the next three years working on this project,” he said. “It’s very large in scope; there’s many, many tasks.”

During the council meeting, Councilwoman Etta Waterfield and Urban Planning Concepts President and Principal Planner Laurie Tamura expressed misgivings about the proposed plan to pay for the general plan update, which would add a 5% surcharge on all city building permits.

Waterfield said she worried about the message a surcharge would send to residents, especially when applied to permits for small construction projects like installing a patio cover.

“I understand the simplicity [of a flat percentage surcharge], but the message that we’re giving to everybody in the city of Santa Maria that we’re going to start hitting them for every nickel, dime and penny that we possibly can … is not one I'm enthused about giving,” Waterfield said.

Tamura proposed that the landowners who would directly benefit from any land use or annexation decisions be billed for the net benefit they would receive instead of placing a surcharge on all permits.

Tamura said Santa Maria will have to annex more land as the city only had two main plots of undeveloped land left.

One of those, the Mahoney Ranch property located southeast of Mahoney Road, would be difficult and cost-prohibitive to develop in the near future because it serves as habitat for the endangered California tiger salamander.

Much of the property east of Highway 101 is no longer under Williamson Act agricultural land preservation contracts, and any annexation of that property would provide a net benefit to those landowners, Tamura said, adding the city paid for its last comprehensive general plan update in 1989 using a similar mechanism.

The City Council ultimately voted to include the proposed permit surcharge in a planned citywide fee study but asked that other possible funding sources be brought before the council for review at a later date.

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.